Gemili heads UEL scholars list
PUBLISHED: 13:31 09 October 2014 | UPDATED: 13:31 09 October 2014
GB sprinter leads big group
Returning sprint hero Adam Gemili headed an all-star cast as a record number of 84 Sports Scholars were formally inducted into the University of East London’s Sports Scholarship programme.
Gemili, a third-year Sport and Exercise Science undergraduate, enjoyed a spectacular summer on the track, winning two gold medals at the European Championships in Zurich and two silvers at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.
Fellow UEL sprinter Bianca Williams won two bronze medals in Glasgow while Aimee Willmott, a London 2012 Olympic swimmer and a new arrival at UEL for this academic year, won two silver medals in the pool.
The medal-winning trio are part of the largest and most talented scholar line-up ever assembled by UEL, underlining its reputation for world-class sports provision.
The group, which comprises sportsmen and women from 13 countries and 12 different sports, includes numerous national and international standard athletes.
Sports boasting the largest contingents of scholars include volleyball, basketball, tennis and athletics while, for the first time, UEL is welcoming scholars from rugby union, football and archery.
Since the scholarship programme was launched in 2009 with just seven athletes, UEL Sports has gone from strength to strength.
Now widely considered to be the most improved university for sport in the UK, this year’s campaign is shaping up to be the most successful ever across a range of sports.
There are particularly high hopes for UEL men’s volleyball and basketball teams, who will be competing for the first time in the British Universities and Colleges Sport (BUCS) Premier South League after gaining promotion last season.
UEL vice-chancellor Professor John Joughin, who awarded the athletes their scholarships at a ceremony in the university’s prestigious SportsDock facility, said: “In a fairly short period of time, UEL has established a great reputation for sport and we are well on our way to becoming the best university for sport in the whole of London.”
David Cosford, UEL’s director of Sport, said: “Over the past five years University of East London has built a fabulous sports offer that attracts and supports the highest calibre athletes across the full spectrum of sports.
“Having achieved so much success last year, I am humbled and excited to see so many national and international standard sportsmen and women make the decision to study at UEL and join our world-class sports programme. I fully expect 2014-15 to be our most successful yet.
“UEL can now compete with the best educational institutions for sport in the UK and it is our objective to not only compete but bring back the silverware.”
Gemili, whose triumph in the 200m at the European Championships was the biggest victory of his track career to date, said he was excited to be part of such a high-calibre programme.
He added that he was looking forward to returning to his academic studies now that his athletics season is over.
He said: “I’ve had an absolutely amazing summer. When I started the season I was still seeking my first senior international medal, so to win two golds at the European Championships and two silvers at the Commonwealths was an absolute dream.
“But now it’s very much back to business for me. The year ahead is very important because it’s my final year at UEL.
“I want to make sure I get a good degree before I turn my attention to trying to win more medals at next year’s World Championships in Beijing.”
Another of the newly inducted Sports Scholars is talented 19-year-old footballer Dillan Stephenson, from Stratford.
Although this will be his first year of studying for a degree in Sports Coaching at UEL, he knows more about the university than the average fresher after working for the last 10 months at SportsDock as an apprentice sports assistant.
Previously on the books of League Two Shrewsbury Town he admits he was left “bitterly disappointed” when the club chose not to sign him on a professional contract when his two-year scholarship came to an end.
A career in football is still on the cards, but education is his priority for now.
“My football career could still work out for me and I’ll be doing the most I can to help the university team here win, but ultimately I have come here to learn,” he said.
“Too often I hear stories about footballers who haven’t studied or thought about lives away from football and who have nothing when it all goes wrong.
“With me, I don’t want that to happen and I know the staff here wouldn’t allow that. When you get to certain ages, reality comes into it quite a bit.
“I’m obviously still young but I’ve been given an opportunity to study while also play the sport I love.
“By studying Sports Coaching it’ll give me a chance to work as a high-performance coach at a football club, for example. The staff here have really helped build up my confidence again. The set-up here is brilliant.
“You only need to look at the people they’ve attracted here such as Adam Gemili and other top athletes and international scholars. There is a great emphasis on sport and education. I would advise anyone to come here if they get the opportunity.”
Another scholar is Dougie Bennett, from Brentwood, who is studying Strength & Conditioning while playing for the university basketball first team.
Bennett has returned to UEL for the fourth year after completing a three-year undergraduate degree in Sports Coaching.
This year is particularly significant for him because not only has he broken into the Scotland men’s basketball senior team, but he will also be a leading player for UEL’s first team in its first Premier League season.
Although born and bred in Essex, Bennett is eligible to compete for Scotland by virtue of his mother.
He has led UEL to consecutive promotions and is excited by the prospect of taking on the best university teams in the country saying: “The changes since I first started have been astonishing. Every sport, not just basketball, has improved here.
“The facilities are incredible and the turnaround in our form as the basketball team has been fantastic.
“We’ve gone promotion, promotion, promotion and last year when we got promotion into the Premier League South it was a really big deal.
“The buzz around everywhere is just amazing. I want to turn that into winning it and I want to go to the BUCS Finals and do really well there. Our goal is to win everything.”
Bennett also has his eyes on the bigger picture, wanting to establish himself in the senior Scotland team after captaining the under-18s. His ambition is to compete at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on Australia’s Gold Coast.
“I’ve always believed in staying focused on a certain goal and I think it is one that is more than achievable,” he added.
“There is no question that the logistics aren’t great. There will be a lot of night buses up to Scotland, but if that what it takes to get there then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll be doing absolutely anything to be putting on a Scotland jersey at the Commonwealth Games.”